When it comes to electric scooters, it seems that people either love them, or want to see them all thrown into a river — literally.
On Monday, Dusty Lehman of Wichita posted a video to Facebook showing he discovered seven scooters in the Arkansas River. In the same Facebook post, Lehman wrote that he found at least 14 scooters on that particular bike ride.
Dockless electric scooters landed in Wichita in June. The resulting vandalism, based on what’s happened in other cities, appears entirely predictable. Driven partly by resentment of motorized devices that complicate road traffic or clog sidewalks, they’ve been targeted in almost any city where they’re deployed.
Last year, officials pulled more than 60 scooters out of Lake Merritt near Oakland, California, in one month. And earlier this year, rescue divers doing training in the Willamette River near Portland, Oregon, pulled out 57.
“We advise those people not to park scooters in the river,” Sgt. Brandon White from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office told the Oregonian.
The phenomenon is so widespread it’s spawned websites and Instagram accounts dedicated entirely to documenting scooter abuse.
Wichita city officials have said scooter companies bear the responsibility of retrieving scooters from the river.
Left in the water, the electronics and batteries in a scooter can leak toxic chemicals into the river.
But scooter companies typically can salvage their gizmos even after they’ve been dunked.
Between the app used to unlock and use the scooters and the onboard instruments such as GPS, the scooters collect quite a bit of data. It’s pretty easy for companies to see where the scooters are at all times, including if they end up in large bodies of water.
VeoRide and Spin, the two companies with scooters in Wichita, would not comment on how many scooters they’ve lost in the Arkansas River.
“We think that the systems that both of them have in place and both of the reactiveness of the groups themselves,” said Wichita Transit Director Mike Tann.
“It will be a problem that will be short-lived from the standpoint of getting people held accountable for it.”
Wichita city officials said they collect data on the whereabouts and traffic patterns of the scooters under a trial program that lets the companies operate for a year. Tann said he’s now interested in getting information about how many get destroyed.
The companies say they’re working to keep their scooters out of the river.
“We … work closely with the community and local authorities to prevent these acts from happening in the first place,” Spin officials said in an email.
Part of the solution may be geo-fencing — programming that shuts down the scooters when they reach boundaries governed by satellite navigation. The companies also shift where scooters are staged each night based on usage patterns and if they discover areas where damage is more likely to happen.
But Tann, Wichita’s transit director, said this weekend’s discovery is the first time he’s heard about large-scale scooter vandalism in Wichita. He suspects it won’t be a frequent problem.
“Obviously,” he said, “there was somebody trying to make a statement.”
Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email him at grimmett (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.
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